(Photo Credit: Seattle Municipal Archives/Flickr)
1. Think about what you like (and don't like) in your current job.
This might seem like an obvious place to start, but it's important. Take a little time to think about what's working and what isn't, in your current career. Go beyond the obvious ("I want to make more money," or "I want to work in a field with a better occupational outlook"). Think about your day-to-day life. Do you do tasks that feel like writing with your left hand when you're a righty? Are there parts of your day that you always look forward to or dread? Write them all down.
2. List your skills.
Many of your talents won't be obvious. Sure, it's great if you know how to code, or speak three languages, or can rebuild a carburetor. Don't forget about the soft skills that make us good hires: maybe you're adaptable, or quick to learn, or have a knack for managing difficult but valuable workers.
A quick way to dig out hidden talents is to ask yourself what you do every day that adds to the company's bottom line. Money obviously isn't the only measure of value, but it's a very persuasive one to future employers. Think about the things you do that help your company make cash, and you'll be amazed at how much more you have to offer.
3. Map skills and likes to other jobs.
Now you have a list of things you like, things you don't like, and what you can do. Forget about your job for a moment, and think about what other jobs use these qualifications. Using PayScale's Career Path Explorer, you can enter your current job title and get a peek at what opportunities might be open to you years down the road. You might find that you're better suited for a different position in your same industry or even company -- and already have the connections to begin networking your way into a new job.
On the other hand, if you're lucky enough to know which job you're targeting, look closely for experience and skills that translate easily into that role. Those are the things you'll emphasize when you redo your resume and start asking for informational interviews.
4. Talk to people.
In this era of LinkedIn and Facebook and Twitter, you're never far from being able to Six-Degrees-of-Kevin-Bacon your way into an introduction to a person who has your dream job. Use that network and start communicating. Even very busy people are usually happy to give a contact a few minutes of their time to talk about themselves and their career.
5. Identify and fill gaps.
With the information you get from your conversations, think about what's standing between you and your dream job. You can even ask this question, outright, when you do informational interviews: "What advice would you give someone who wants to have a career like yours?" is always a good starter.
Eventually, you'll get a clear picture of what you need to do in order to round out your qualifications and make yourself the dream candidate. Many times, you'll find that there's not as much of a skills gap as you'd feared, and that you're closer than you thought to having the job you want.
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